Lower NZI, Level 1, Aotea Centre, Auckland

17/02/2012 - 17/02/2012

New Performance Festival 2012

Production Details

“Politics; a giant reality TV show. Don’t you think we need a theatre that shows us this?”

Using his actors to create the script by writing down every utterance or thought they have, Tao Wells collects their verbatim, slicing and dicing to create an entirely new script with alternating scenes. Only on the night of the performance do the actors come together to read this remixed version for the first time.

I have taken the elements of theatre and shifted them slightly… The original notion of the arts doing a good deed in purging dangerous emotions from a populace is reversed. I uncover these emotions, but I ask the audience to take responsibility for them, till the wheels of the theatre fall off.” – Tao Wells 

This felt like art should, as an event and an experience. Immersive, alive, challenging… veering from hilarity to disbelief to other things. Unusual, and probably not for everyone..” –

Tao Wells calls himself a Community Conceptualist, Conceptual Abstract Expressionist or A Public Relation Specialist (take your pick). More »

Friday 17 February:  9pm

DURATION:  120 minutes

VENUE: Lower NZI1, Aotea Centre



Fraudulent, unfocussed, unprofessional presentation = boredom

Review by Stephen Austin 18th Feb 2012

Here Are The Rules: Two groups of people gather and talk.  Every utterance, thought and gesture is written down.  Once they are finished they leave.  The writer takes this text away and re-edits, adapts and remixes it all.  On the night of performance, five performers (including the writer/projectionist) gather and read the script that has been created while it is projected on a screen for the audience to ponder.  No prior rehearsal and the actors can play themselves as they see fit.

This sounds more interesting than it is.  No effort is made to create a work that rises above its initial material.  This is what it is, a polemic presented with no interest in the discourse itself and nothing grows from it.  Actors arrive and come and go as they please; if they are not in the room when their lines are to be spoken, they simply are not said. 

There are huge aching gaps of silence which we as audience fill with reading the script.  Did I come here to read?  I would have gone and downloaded an eBook if I wanted to do that.  Other times there is unrelenting political diatribe thrown back and forth between performers.  Did I come here to listen to an un-edited political opinion?  I would switch on RNZ or the National Programme for that.

The only attempt at theatrical device comes between scenes.  The laptop that is projected from is closed, the lights fade, the doors to the space are opened and light pours through them.  Upon the first reading (yes, this 113 page script is attempted TWICE!) this feels like the performers and audience are being invited in.  As time progresses, it becomes an invitation for audience to leave if they wish; which about three quarters of the crowd take advantage of.

Performances range from the lacklustre to full-blown OTT.  Those reading the script seem just as lost as the audience as to whether this is all going somewhere.  Indeed one actor arrives late and leaves early, presumably out of complete disinterest in the work.

The most telling moment comes when writer Tao Wells (who has been silently projecting the script, not even reading his own lines) stands less than mid-way through the second reading of the script and declares “Alright, I give up, you win, The End!”  So this was a battle fought between writer and audience?  We were given no method to engage the work at the outset, why should we signify satisfaction if there is no catharsis for us?

I find myself not offended by the material, as much of the publicity has promised, but affronted that I am so bored and unsatisfied by this fraudulent, unfocussed, unprofessional presentation and a complete lack of audience-performer contract even hinted at.

Wells claims that he is “doing a good deed in purging dangerous emotions…” and that he wants “the audience to take responsibility for them, till the wheels of the theatre fall off.”  A little difficult to achieve if the car has already been jacked-up and the wheels and stereo have been stripped out and sold to keep the driver fed. 

For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


Dean Atkinson April 16th, 2020

this is the unfortunate truth with Tao Wells, together with his smug/gimmicky photo and general ethos of offering bits of liberal arts jargon to no constructive effect - whether he's talking about an 'aesthetic philosophy', a 'critique of arts practice', or his most unintentionally hilarous bit where he postures that he embodies 'a critique of capitalism' - Wells is an ardent liberal/socialist, in the flawed, hypocritical tradition rather than the one that empowers anyone, or means anything to anyone but himself. He is apparently unselfconcious of how he makes himself more ridiculous with each unhappy, unfocussed, pointless 'work of art' that fails to communicate, or define him in some way against the sea of other unknowns in the broader arts community. "Sophomoric" is the appropriate term, for people who think its loftier than using just eight letters to spell "bullshit". 

slyvia yealands March 6th, 2012

Mr Wells, thank you for your effort. Clearly you are the balls pressed to the floor while the reviewers here are lacking or have balls arguably covered with flys. I'm opposed to rehersals, they take up time most people don't have and result in contrived behaviour and lies that are too often applauded...yawn. I am a follower of the Truth not the Lie not the spectacle or the costume, overblown charadery, pomp. Thanks again for an honest "risky" approach.

Benny Vandergast February 23rd, 2012

Heh, "full cast of people" - I guess in this age of puppet shows and animal porn it's important we make these clarifications. Me, I'm off to watch a full band of musicians fight a film that I'm hoping is full of cinema. Fringe ahoy!

Tao Wells February 22nd, 2012

Awesome james! Way to suck up, Keep up the following!  Smythe, it's not pleasent to watch you squirm, but watching you deny/ defend/ excuse your behaviour, live, that which was witnessed by an audience and full cast of people, I'd pay to see! Bring it ON!

James Levy February 21st, 2012

Heh heh... Tao Wells, the tar baby of Artbash has migrated to Theatreview . If you just ignore him (and withold funding ) he will probably go away.

John Smythe February 21st, 2012

Thank you, Tao. So much for ‘conversation’. You have revealed a great deal about yourself as an artist to the benefit of all who read this thread.

Oh, and I guess I should add ‘violence’ to the list of words I claim you have misappropriated – or is part of your mission to redefine the English language?

Tao Wells February 21st, 2012

Smythe, the mis quote was by the present reviewer. You were just the one who had to act like a violent child. Don't know who you think wants to read your desparate spew above,  I certainly am not interested, nor could be bothered. Good day to you. 

John Smythe February 20th, 2012

Good Lord, Tao – where do I start? 

First, where have I misquoted you?

Second. when did I ever “attack (y)our set at the plays [sic] close”? I have a clear recollection of sitting in an Aro Valley hall 12 years ago with the 5 other audience members, slowly realising the tediousness was over, applauding that fact, then asking, “May I ask who was responsible for listing this under ‘theatre’ in the Fringe programme? It offends every principle of the notion of theatre.” I made no physical attack on anything.

You say, of the opening night in this year’s Auckland season, “The play was a dreadful bore, which is why I stopped the play” – then you castigate Steven Austin (and me) for giving it a negative review. I have no idea why you think people should spend their valuable time and money indulging your banal enquiry into the art of performance but I do believe you have misappropriated and abused the following words: play; actor; performance. And in so doing you have perpetrated a fraud. 

“This play examines the mechanism of performance and how most people can not communicate under its conditions,” you say. Well that proves we should not take the skill of those who can for granted.  But what is to be gained by witnessing those who cannot – not because they are incapable but because the circumstances under which the event is presented conspire against any possibility of effective communication.  

(Michael, David Graves and Martyn Sanderson’s ‘24 Hour Non-stop Four-legged Theatre’ event, at the Massey University (Palmerston North) student arts festival in 1966, began with their systematically clearing the jetsam of previous productions from the stage (abandoned scenery, furniture, props, etc), sweeping the stage, re-setting a table and chairs then sitting down to eat their lunch. They went on to offer bits of text and dramatic action – then, when a group of students heckled them, they gave them the stage and sat in the audience.  The students lasted but a few minutes before they ran out of ideas. I didn’t stay much longer after that – having a play to perform in and others to see – but remember it well as a valid enquiry into what constitutes theatre.)

Tao, your assertions about the motives and prejudices of theatre critics are offensive to a group of very dedicated people. We have never met to agree on a standardised notion of theatre, nor would we want to. The fact that two out of two critics have – 640 kms and 12 years apart – arrived at very similar conclusions, including calling your work fraudulent, may just be a provocation for you to rethink what you perpetrate in the name of performance. 

I imagine that anyone who shares your perspective will only be attracted by the reviews, while others will be duly warned.  We claim to be participants in ongoing ‘conversations’ about productions that began long before we entered the arena and may continue long after we exit.

Lastly, to refer to a theme as old as theatre itself, have you ever heard of ‘hubris’?   

Tao Wells February 20th, 2012

I don't prescribe what the members of the groups write, or behave. Some times this has resulted in truly moving emotionally honest displays, soemtimes, as this particular version, full blown egotistical displays. The fact that the reviewers couldn't grasp the parameters of what was on display, could not process the most basic and obvious facts presented, suggests to me a deliberate prejudice that in itself, I feel rather chuffed at exposing.

Michael Smythe February 20th, 2012

Tao wrote: "This play examines the mechanism of performance and how most people can not communicate under its conditions." But he seems to find it problematical when they do in response to his offering.

I have not seen Tao's performance but the idea of challenging the audience's passive expectation of entertainment is not new. Back in the 1960s I recall Dave Graves (a graphic design tutor at the Wellington School of Design) telling us of a 'happening' in which he, Martyn Sanderson and others waited on stage until the audience demanded something. It was a daring and challenging experiment which got over iteslf then and there.

Tao Wells February 20th, 2012

The unprofesionalism of mis quoting me to make a point is typical of the type of behavour people in positions  of so called power feel they owe me. The unprofessionalism of Smythe's public display of violence, attacking our set at the plays close, along with this clone review,  clearly reveal nothing other than the desparate small timeness of NZ theater critics, their lack of experience and ultimately their intent to perpetuate average theater at the expense of great.

The play was a dreadful bore, which is why I stopped the play, the fact that that was the point ecaped you. You want entertainment, with your contract garuteeing happiness. I want art, what grown ups want, I can't teach you anything about art, you have to experience it. But I'll give you a clue, Liking something, has nothing to do with it. This play examines the mechanism of performance and how most people can not communicate under its conditions. Making Shakespeares  "all the worlds a stage" not true... for most...  some would find this a revelation. I do.

John Smythe February 18th, 2012

On 3 March 2000, one of my Wellington Fringe reviews, for the National Business Review, included this about Tao Wells’ Inuit Time, at Aro Valley Community Centre – remarkably similar to The Risk of Listening. It seems nothing has changed: 

“Sure the Fringe is an open, free-market risk-fest where a proportion of committed failures is inevitable. Indeed, where practitioners want to succeed in this rigorous art form called performance … failure must be welcomed as a crucial learning tool in the creative process. Within this equation, then, ruthless compassion holds much more value than hypocritical niceness.

“It’s in this belief that I roundly condemn the travesty labelled Inuit Time. An insult to the fundamentals of theatre, it offends every clause of the implied audience-performer contract that gets people buying tickets and devoting time to attend an event in good faith.

“Conceived by one Tao Wells (BFA, Dip Tch), it consists of five slack guys ineptly reading lines of verbiage which, according to the programme, evolved when two groups, “artists/men”, met separately and wrote down what one said. “Results make a script; projected for audience to read; members play selves as see fit”. I’m told they didn’t rehearse, they just turned up and did it with no focus, purpose or apparent commitment to anything I’d call communication, let alone art, at any level.

“In my opinion they have perpetrated a fraud. Even though their top ticket price is only $7, they have still degraded everything the Fringe stands for and abused the opportunity given them by a dedicated team.”

That it should have been included in a ‘New Performance Festival’ 12 years later is astonishing because a) it is not new, and b) it has a proven potential to do incalculable damage to the trust audiences bring to the ‘audience-performer contract’.   

Wells can only be credited with establishing a ground-level ‘bar’ for theatre-makers above which pretty well everything else looks better. A highly dubious achievement. 

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